Michiganders: Getting a ban on fracking on the ballot needs YOU

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Need more Volunteers
By LuAnne Kozma

To get a ban on fracking and frack wastes on the November 2016 ballot, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan needs more people to help collect signatures.

If you haven’t been involved, now is the time. It’s urgent. We’ve got a state to protect!

The deadline for collecting all the signatures is end of May 2016.

VOLUNTEER TODAY at WWW.LETSBANFRACKING.ORG

This is grassroots democracy

Over 150,000 people signed the petition last year. We were at as many festivals, farmers markets, concerts, and street corners as we could last spring, summer and fall. Nearly 800 people were involved. We were everywhere! We met enthusiastic supporters from every county in the state.

At our press conference in November 2015 with our 150,000 signatures.

At our press conference in November 2015 with our 150,000 signatures.We are a true grassroots campaign.

We are a true grassroots campaign. Last year, 100 volunteers collected over 92,000 signatures. Another 659 volunteers collected nearly 43,000 signatures. Paid circulators collected an additional 16,000.

Using our 150,000 signatures collected in 2015

The signatures collected last year have been verified using the Qualified Voter File. We plan to use all of the valid signatures in the submittal. While there is a Legislative effort to stop us through Senate Bill 776, (currently in the House Elections Committee), if passed, it will only force us into court.IMG_9157

But without enough signatures to submit, we can’t continue the fight. We’re not at the 252,523 valid signature mark yet.

During the long winter, many people dropped out, for various reasons: ill health, family obligations, moving out of state, etc. The bottom line is, we need NEW people to step up and participate.

Collecting signatures is easy

It’s not hard collecting signatures. Standing outside talking to people, asking them to sign, can take as little as one hour to collect 25 signatures. Outside a busy coffee shop in a northern Michigan city last Saturday, it was cold but sunny, and I was able to collect signatures from 30 people in just 1 and a half hours. It’s that easy. And we hear spring is on its way!

We need volunteers to collect more than just a few signatures, because it’s difficult for the team of organizers to take the time to train thousands of people who do only a handful–we’re volunteers too, and time is very limited to get this done.

So please. If you want to see this proposal on the ballot . . . Step up. Sign up. Collect signatures.

There’s no magic bullet, no magical group of people that will swoop in and do it for us.

When you sign up, we’ll teach you how to fill out the sheets property, give you official petitions and a clipboard, mentor you, and get you started.

We’ve come this far. Let’s get all the signatures we need. Don’t assume that others will do it for you.

And Spring events are upon us! Collect signatures at flower sales, craft fairs, sport events, races and runs, food fests, concerts, busy sidewalks, Arbor Day, Earth Day, Mothers Day . . . and more.

This campaign needs you.

Join us and sign up today at www.LetsBanFracking.org

If you cannot physically volunteer to collect signatures, please DONATE to the campaign to hire some individuals and teams to help out the volunteer effort.

Let’s Ban Fracking and protect Michigan from the many harms of fracking. See the campaign brochure here.

 

 

LuAnne Kozma is the campaign director of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, and also the president of the non-profit group, Ban Michigan Fracking. 

Michigan DEQ seeks total control of frack wastewater injection wells

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One of the many injection wells used to dispose of horizontal frack wastes in Michigan, the Slowinski injection well in Kalkaska County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

One of approximately 887 injection wells used to dispose of oil and gas wastes in Michigan, the Slowinski injection well in Kalkaska County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

By LuAnne Kozma and Ellis Boal

DEQ’s request to EPA to be in sole charge of the state’s class II injection wells for disposal of oil and gas industry wastes spells danger for Michigan water

We call on EPA to reject DEQ’s application and discontinue permitting of new injection wells in Michigan: Neither DEQ or EPA are credible or capable.

The Flint River depicted in a 1920 post card. The writer of the card says of Flint on the back, "This is a beautiful clean city." Postcard courtesy LuAnne Kozma.

The Flint River depicted in a 1920 post card. The writer of the card says of Flint on the back, “This is a beautiful clean city.” Postcard courtesy LuAnne Kozma.

While the State of Michigan was blowing off the entire community of Flint’s complaints about contaminated water last August,  it was also applying to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be in complete control over the state’s toxic waste injection wells under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

If EPA approves the State’s application, it would be disastrous for Michiganders and our water resources.

Numerous investigations have publicized the responsibility of both the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA’s Chicago-based Region 5 in the water crisis in Flint, after Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager Darnell Early switched the city’s water source to the Flint River in April 2014.

The Flint river has suffered from decades of industrial pollution. The water has high levels of chlorides (thought to be partly the result of road salt), making it highly corrosive, and which resulted in eating up the pipes and the leaching of lead into the public water supply. See www.flintwaterstudy.org and ACLU of Michigan video “Circle of Lies.”

On February 9  the state attorney general announced an investigation into possible criminal acts including manslaughter charges against a range of Michigan public officials.  Two in the cross-hairs will be Governor Rick Snyder and the former DEQ director Dan Wyant. Targeted also could be EPA officials in Chicago, including Region 5’s former director Susan Hedman.

Both Wyant and Hedman have resigned in disgrace over failure to enforce provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and for their roles in the #FlintWaterCrisis. They and other key players including Gov. Snyder will soon testify before Congress.

DEQ is asking for sole power over Michigan injection wells under the Safe Drinking Water Act

Diagram of an underground injection well for oil and gas industry wastes. EPA illustration, in the public domain.

Diagram of the two types of underground injection well for oil and gas industry wastes. EPA illustration, in the public domain.

Michigan DEQ drafted a plan in 2014 to acquire even more power over safe drinking water enforcement. In this case the subject was “class II” injection wells, wells drilled into the earth where gas and oil industry toxic liquid wastes are put down into geologic formations.  Not actually containers, these porous formations are the resting place for some of the nation’s worst toxic wastes. Old oil and gas wells are sometimes pressed into service as disposal wells. The wastes going underground include the chemical stew of the fracturing or acidizing fluids shot down into oil and gas wells combined with additional, salty and sometimes radioactive liquids and chemicals already below ground that all return to the surface during oil and gas extraction. They are massive in volume.

Currently both Michigan DEQ and EPA have to sign off on a new “class II” injection well permit. Now DEQ is seeking what is called “primacy.” This means, DEQ would have sole power and authority over all decision making and enforcing of federal laws regarding injection wells with little EPA oversight.

In November 2014 DEQ circulated a “briefing report” boasting that:

There are about 1286 class II wells in Michigan. … The State of Michigan is well equipped for Class II … primacy, understanding state specific geography, geology, cultural, climactic [sic], social, and economic issues. … The State of Michigan’s record of accomplishment for excellent environmental protection and regulation for Class II injection will continue under the delegated authority, and the DEQ will continue to provide good customer service to the regulated community and public.

Misspelling of “climatic” would be merely amusing if the consequences were not so serious. And the reference to “good customer service” angers a lot of Michigan residents who want governmental protection of water resources because we live here and drink the water, not because we are paying “customers.”

From EPA website 1/11/14.

From EPA website 1/11/14.

Of the 1286 class II wells, 887 of them are for disposal, and others are for enhanced oil recovery.

 

Structurally, there is no difference between a disposal well and a gas or oil well.

 

 

 

 

DEQ held “public meeting,” turned it into an on-the-spot (illegal) “public hearing” and then lied about it to EPA

DEQ then announced a “public meeting” would be held on December 9, 2014, to discuss the plan. Whether public comment would be allowed there was ambiguous, in the announcement.

When the “public meeting” started, DEQ announced to everyone’s surprise that it would hold a “public hearing” first. The two are very different, particularly in the legal requirement that a “public hearing” have advance public notice and that a formal record be made.

So this “public hearing” was secret. With no advance notice for a  hearing, fewer than a dozen people attended, and only two provided comments in person. Ban Michigan Fracking attended and made comments.  [See: bmfCommentOnDeqInjectionPrimacy.]

Later we filed a formal objection to DEQ assuming primacy in injection well regulation. We argued there had been no proper public hearing, Michigan and EPA have different definitions of “injection well,” and DEQ had advanced no reason it should have primacy other than that it wanted the power.

DEQ pitches the primacy plan to EPA while the two agencies cover up the Flint lead levels

But the water in Flint had turned brown and poisonous and for months people had been  documenting numerous health problems. Both EPA and DEQ were hiding EPA regulations manager Miguel Del Toral’s February memo to DEQ and his June report to EPA higher ups about the horrific lead levels he had documented. EPA gagged Toral from speaking with anyone and did nothing to alert the public. DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel called Del Toral a “rogue employee” and tried to explain:

“Let me start here – anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax. … It does not look like there is any broad problem with the water supply freeing up lead as it goes to homes.”

Amid all of this dual-agency denial, and with no publicity DEQ submitted a draft primacy application for injection wells to EPA Region 5 last August.

The centerpiece was a “memorandum of agreement” set up for the signatures of Dan Wyant and Susan Hedman. It calls for DEQ and EPA to “maintain a high level of cooperation and coordination … to assure successful and effective administration.” Page 1 of the 383-page package has space for an endorsement letter by Governor Snyder.

A week later Flint citizens submitted 26,000 signatures on petitions asking the city to end its use of the Flint River for drinking water. In September Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint published a study documenting the increased lead levels in children’s blood. DEQ’s contemptuous answer was: Repeated testing indicated the water tested within acceptable levels.

So DEQ’s record with safe drinking water law is far from “excellent,” and EPA’s complicity in the whole affair is now part of a federal investigation. Michigan DEQ has no business asking for primacy over injection wells and asserting the agency has a stellar record protecting Michigan people under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

One problem with injection wells is they leak

As ProPublica’s 2012 series of investigative reports on the nation’s underground injection wells revealed, there is the growing problem of leaking. The assumption that these toxic materials will remain safely entombed underground forever is mistaken. In “Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us,” former EPA technical expert Mario Salazar remarked that “In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted… A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.” Salazar worked with EPA’s underground injection well program in Washington for 25 years.

Cornell’s Dr. Anthony Ingraffea’s work in studying well casing failures shows that there is a big problem with all well structures–the cement and steel casing barriers between the drilled frack well or injection well and our aquifers. About 5% fail right after drilling, more fail later and eventually most will fail. A former industry insider Ingraffea says, “loss of well bore integrity [is] a well-understood and chronic problem.”

Jessica Ernst’s work, A Brief Review of Threats to Canada’s Groundwater from the Oil and Gas Industry’s Methane Migration and Hydraulic Fracturing, details hundreds of studies, reports, and other evidence of widespread well failure and water contamination in Canada and the U.S.

Compounding the issue of leaking casings is that with increased fracking activity creating more wells creating more and more fractures underground, and generating more wastes leading to even more injection wells poking more holes in the ground, there is more pressure on all the wells’ cement. Ingraffea commented to Ernst that industry is speeding up the cement degradation process “that used to take decades” and now takes only years. (See Slickwater: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry, by Andrew Nikiforuk, p. 245)

A 2014 US Government Accountability Office report criticized the EPA for failing to adequately oversee injection wells. One criticism is that the EPA has not consistently inspected  state programs to ensure that state regulators comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and EPA guidelines. And back in 1989, another GAO report, Drinking Water: Safeguards are Not Preventing Contamination from Injected Oil and Gas Wells, said that most of the contaminated aquifers could not be reclaimed because fixing the damage was ‘too costly’ or ‘technically infeasible.’ The report also noted “water contamination was not discovered, for the most part, until water supplies became too salty to drink or crops were ruined.”

Injection well hearings

Injection wells proposed for Michigan townships over the past few years have been met with intense public outcry. When “enough” people request a public hearing of the EPA, they hold one. While EPA is predisposed to permit an application if it meets all criteria, in some instances, when a community rises up and makes a show of force at a public hearing, and other political pressure comes to bear, communities can defeat an injection well in their area, but it’s tough going.

In Fork Township in Mecosta County, the EPA held a hearing in late January. About 200 people showed up at a local high school. Fifty people spoke, all in opposition to the well. This well is pending and the community continues organizing to oppose it.

In White Lake Township in Oakland County, residents rose up in opposition in late 2014 to a proposed injection well by Jordan Development. After residents inundated the township offices with calls, the company backed down prior to an EPA hearing being held and withdrew their application. Without a local notice of the pending EPA hearing, residents would never have known to complain at all.

In Summerfield Township in Monroe County, a similar story played out. Residents packed an EPA hearing in the local school auditorium in May 2015 and spoke out in opposition to a planned injection well by Trendwell Energy. The karst topography of the area played a role in providing a substantive reason for not putting an injection well there. After sustained opposition and public pressure, as well as pending legislation in Lansing to ban injection wells in karst topography, Trendwell pulled out of the project.

Regarding the DEQ having primacy and how it would have affected the outcome in Summerfield Township, township supervisor John Chandler says

“We need the EPA or another set of eyes for sure. The state rubber stamps these projects. The EPA hearing set the stage for us and put the oil company on notice. I believe it was the last trip to Lansing in December that really ‘drove it home’ when we testified to the House [on the bill.]”

Monroe County is now considering a county-wide ban on injection wells.

In Michigan DEQ’s hands, most injection wells would be approved

If Michigan were granted primacy by EPA, the DEQ would be able to hold hearings, but it would be up to Hal Fitch, assistant supervisor of wells to determine whether there was adequate public interest to hold such a hearing.

And because DEQ must follow the state law to “foster the development” of the oil and gas industry), approvals on injection wells would go industry’s way. And DEQ would be the final word. Public hearings would be a sham.

This part of the state law (MCL 324.61502) is being challenged by Michigan voters by ballot initiative. See the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s brochure at: www.letsbanfracking.org. The campaign continues with signature-gathering through June 1, 2016. (The Committee’s leadership includes the two of us).

Gas storage

Other evidence of DEQ’s lax well enforcement has now emerged, uncovered in a report last month by Michigan Environmental Council.

Gas storage wells in Michigan are of the same type as the one that spewed enormous quantities of greenhouse-gas methane in the affluent Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles for four months this winter.

Michigan has more active storage fields than any state, and even more are coming. Some aging wells and pipes haven’t been replaced since the 1940s. Odorant is not added to gas in the Michigan fields, making it hard to detect leaks. A disaster involving thousands of evacuations like that at Porter Ranch could happen here, according to an expert quoted by MEC.

MEC interviewed Hal Fitch about this.  Fitch is DEQ’s assistant supervisor of wells and directs the Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals.  He served for many years under the supervisor of wells, DEQ director Wyant.  The timing isn’t clear, but it appears the interview was just before or after his boss Dan Wyant quit.

Saying at first that gas storage standards are “strict” and “comprehensive,” Fitch then admitted inspections are infrequent, and DEQ standards really are not very good:

Those inspection reports contain “not a lot of detail, frankly,” he said. “With what’s going on in California, we’re looking at our process ourselves, to see if there’s some improvements we can make,” Fitch said. “[Storage wells] don’t get as many inspections as an oil well or a brine injection well. But we’re looking now if we should have more complete records. We’re getting good compliance as far as what’s required, but we’re evaluating whether that’s really sufficient.”

The federal safe drinking water act includes only liquid storage, not gas storage, under “class II” injection wells. Today DEQ has exclusive authority over gas storage, so the primacy application will not affect that. Even so, Fitch’s admission belies the DEQ claim it has an “excellent” underground environmental record.

DEQ misled EPA about “public hearing” and didn’t provide the public comments it did get

It was only last month that we learned DEQ had finally submitted the draft application to EPA Region 5 in August 2015. We obtained a copy and uploaded it to our site so anyone can review it.

We were surprised to see that DEQ made no mention of our organization’s comments and those of another citizen commenter. The DEQ asserted a “public hearing” had been held, without saying it had publicly billed it as a “public meeting.”

On January 29 we wrote Region 5 director Hedman complaining of the omission, and asserting our objection should be made part of the EPA record.

That was her last full day on the job.

The letter added two additional reasons Region 5 should deny DEQ’s application for primacy, given its mishandling of the Flint water crisis and its lax regulation of gas storage wells.

The injection well in Grand Traverse County where several deep frack well waste is taken for disposal, Weber 4-4. Photo by Ellis Boal. January 2012.

The injection well in Grand Traverse County where frack well waste from several wells is taken for disposal, Weber 4-4. Photo by Ellis Boal. January 2012.

So who should issue injection well permits?

The request exposed a glaring problem: If DEQ is denied primacy then EPA Region 5 continues in command. But Region 5’s handling of what happened in Flint is just as outrageous as DEQ’s.

Citing the widely-reported history, our letter to Hedman noted that Region 5 had memos in its hands about Flint’s water in February, April, and June of 2015. Despite danger to children, the Region 5 office sounded no alarms. Hedman claimed at first that EPA had no power to act, saying only the state could. But in fact under the federal law, the EPA had oversight responsibility and emergency powers to intervene. Soon top DEQ officials began resigning. A month later Hedman herself announced she would quit. Finally EPA issued an emergency order and is running the show but not from the Region 5 office in Chicago. It’s being handled in DC.

So who should be regulating Michigan’s “class II” injection wells for frack and oil/gas drilling wastes? We told Hedman: Injection permitting “should end throughout Michigan and all the states of Region 5.”

In addition to Michigan, Region 5 includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

DEQ should withdraw the primacy application.  But if it persists with a formal application and Region 5 gives the expected preliminary green light, a public hearing will be announced — presumably a real one this time — for later this year.

Is the purpose for Michigan DEQ having “primacy” to increase the amount of waste being dumped in Michigan?

It seems so.  Injection well programs take place in 32 states, with the majority of wells around the Great Lakes and in places where gas and oil is produced like the Gulf Coast, California and Texas. Ohio is a state that has primacy for injection wells, with no EPA oversight. Injection wells there are multiplying. People in Ohio have been alarmed that they have been targeted as a regional center for toxic frack wastes from out of state as well as from the numerous frack wells within the state. According to a 2015 report by Earthworks that looked at the failures of oil and gas waste practices in four states–New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia–the two states with primacy (Ohio and WV) had the most injection wells, with about 200 and 60 respectively, while New York had only 6, and Pennsylvania 10.

In contrast, Michigan leads them all with approximately 887 disposal wells. With primacy, Michigan will become even more loaded up with class II injection wells and their deadly load.

A new injection disposal well  for Redding Township (Clare County) was applied for today.


See also:

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan ballot campaign that would ban wastes from horizontal well bores using fracturing or acidizing: www.LetsBanFracking.org

America’s dirtiest secret: how billions of barrels of toxic oil and gas waste are falling through regulatory cracks, by Jefferson Dodge and Joel Dyer, Boulder Weekly, March 13, 2014.

Fracking wastewater is big business in Ohio, by Kathiann M. Kowalski, Midwest Energy News, July 18, 2014.

Injection wells: the poison beneath us, by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, June 12, 2012. (And see the entire series of ProPublica investigations on injection wells.)

No time to waste: effective management of oil and gas radioactive waste, (no time to waste-2), Western Organization of Resource Councils, 2015.

Wasting away: four states’ failure to manage gas and oil field waste from the Marcellus and Utica Shale,  by Nadia Steinzor and Bruce Baizel, Earthworks, April 2015.

*NOTE that some of these reports propose regulatory solutions. Ban Michigan Fracking’s position is instead on a BAN: that these wastes must end and the processes that produce them must cease. Fracking and injection wells can’t really be “made better” because the fixes do not prevent harm.

The Flint water connection to fracking

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The Karegnondi pipeline running from Flint to Lake Huron might be a conduit to forcing more residents off of groundwater wells that will be affected by fracking, and onto the Karegnondi water system. Photo from Karegnondi.org

by LuAnne Kozma

People have been contacting us about the possibility that one reason for Flint’s plans for a new pipeline for water from Lake Huron through the recently formed Karegnondi Water Authority, is to provide water to the frack industry. This first came up in a blogpost “Could the Flint water crisis have its origins in a desire to open up new areas of Michigan to fracking?” and it’s been repeated in other reporting, such as Motor City Muckraker and Eclectablog.

The more likely connection: free groundwater for the frackers, Karegnondi water at a price for everyone else

UnknownA connection is there, but unless new evidence turns up, it’s not that the new Karegnondi pipeline necessarily would provide water directly to the frack industry. Instead, the likely scenario is that as the gas and oil industry drills and/or fracks in the Genesee, Lapeer, Sanilac, and St. Clair county areas along the pipeline’s routes, residential water wells will go bad and become contaminated, forcing residents to tie in (buy in) to the new Karegnondi water system, making them rate-paying water customers.

Monetizing water for people who currently get their water from groundwater wells is perhaps part of the business plan behind Karegnondi. Michigan has more private groundwater drinking wells providing water to residents and municipalities than any other state. The more the frackers can have access to that water, pushing more and more people off the groundwater supply and onto privatized or monetized sources, the better for the oil and gas industry, and the much worse for the public.

Download the Karegnondi pipeline map pdf.

The state’s role in oil and gas development 

Most people think the DEQ “does its job” by protecting human health and the environment, and resources like water, above all else. Not so with oil and gas. The Oil, Gas and Minerals Division of the DEQ is in charge of oil and gas development in the state, and issues permits for frack wells. Michigan DEQ is required by state law to

“foster the development of the [gas and oil] industry along the most favorable conditions, with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products.” (MCL 324.61502)

“Drill, baby, drill” is written right into the law. This must change. It’s been there since 1939. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan has written a ballot initiative to change this statute, ban fracking and frack wastes, and ban acidizing in horizontal well bores.

The state has a deeper, darker “role”: It also makes money from the production of oil and gas. In effect, the state is a business partner with the oil and gas industry, even though, it’s supposed to be regulating it. In this case, “regulating” means giving them every opportunity to extract fossil fuels and make a profit.

It’s more insidious than that. Much like the lead industry waged a campaign to outfit the nation’s infrastructure with their deadly lead pipes (see: The Lead Industry and Lead Water Pipes: A “Modest Campaign”) we see these same devices being used today by the oil and gas industry to install their deadly infrastructure of natural gas plants, frack wells, compressor stations, toxic injection wells, and pipelines.

And the DEQ is right there with industry, promoting it, and mouthing the same propaganda. Brad Wurfel, the disgraced former DEQ spokesperson who recently resigned for his despicable role in the #FlintWaterCrisis (and who said “anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax”) has repeated frack industry talking points like “new fracking technology is a potential game changer for this country.” He also said: “The state’s regulatory program is regarded nationally as one of the toughest — a safe, effective way to allow domestic energy production while protecting the land, air and water.” An interview by the Rockford Squire with DEQ’s Wurfel reads like an ANGA (American Natural Gas Association) commercial, while putting down residents sounding the alarm about the harms of fracking.

Fracking and drilling planned for Genesee, Lapeer, Sanilac, and St. Clair Counties

There are plans for fracking and other drilling activity in Genesee, Lapeer, Sanilac, and St. Clair counties. There are already four “high volume, hydraulically fractured,” frack wells (those using over 100,000 gallons of water per well) in Sanilac County: the Schultz, Walker, State Wheatland & Reinelt, and Van Damme wells, all targeting the A-1 Carbonate formation.  (See current map of DEQ wells).

The State auctioned off state-owned mineral rights to acres throughout the area, with 200 acres auctioned in Genesee county near Holloway Regional Park.  In 2013 land men from Western Land Services combed the area meeting with landowners, buying their mineral rights. Local residents organized in opposition, with Oregon and Richfield Townships in Lapeer County passing resolutions against fracking. And large gas storage fields (like the Porter Ranch, California storage well that is leaking massive amounts of methane) are located in St. Clair County.

The frackers sometimes do purchase municipal water

It’s possible that municipal water from Karegnondi could be used in the future for fracking. The frackers have certainly purchased water from municipalities in the past when groundwater supplies became scare or insufficient. With the Westerman frack well in Kalkaska County the frackers ran out of groundwater, bought public water from the nearby municipality, and when that wasn’t enough for the frack job, resorted to drilling 8 more water wells on site.

The city of Saline, in Washtenaw County, was selling municipal water for oil and gas drilling in 2012 until residents rose up and stopped it, and the city imposed a moratorium on further water sales. As Saline resident and business owner Mitch Rohde, opposing the use of municipal water for drilling, said at the time,

“I can say that my company is here to stay, and isn’t here to suck non-renewal resources out of the ground, profit, and in a locust-like manner move on, leaving a path of industrialization, potential contaminant, property devaluation and other issues while lining up the next small town to feed on.”

The frack industry uses ground water for free. A lot of it.

Water well drilled on the site of the Mancelona 1-28 HD1 horizontal frack well, on state forest land. The frackers use public groundwater for free.

Water well drilled on the site of the Mancelona 1-28 HD1 horizontal frack well, on state forest land. The frackers use public groundwater for free. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

Generally, though, the frack industry uses ground water from temporary water wells they drill on the site of the well pad (see above photo). If the frack well is on state land, that means the frackers use this publicly-owned resource for free, and use as much as they want. The hokey, much criticized “water withdrawal assessment tool” (WWAT) is used by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as a guise to make it appear they’ve considered the quantity of water being removed from the ground. In fact, it does no such thing, records no cumulative records of how much water is removed from the aquifers below, and studies no impacts.

And when a frack well applicant fails the WWAT, the DEQ staff simply visit the site, and then rubber stamp the approval anyway. One well, which failed the WWAT, used over 21 million gallons of water. (See: Michigan’s 21 Million Gallon Frack Job and Michigan Gas Wells Surpassing All Water Records,  Governor-approved Frack Panel Unconcerned).

The frack industry, if it does all the drilling it wants to, will thirst after Michigan water. One estimate from 2013 was if Encana (now sold to Marathon) drilled the 500 wells they projected, the company would use and destroy 4 billion gallons of groundwater, about what Traverse City uses in two years.

The DEQ keeps this list of the water amounts used by the industry’s recent “high volume hydraulically fractured” wells.

The millions of gallons of fresh water used for fracking are no longer “water” after it is combined with millions of gallons of chemicals, many of them neurotoxins and cancer-causing. These millions of gallons are permanently taken from the water cycle. To frack, the toxic cocktail is injected underground using extreme pressure to break up the rock formation (or in the case of acidizing, dissolve the rock). What comes back out of the well is even worse, and usually radioactive. These liquid wastes (the industry and DEQ like to call this toxic waste “flowback” and “produced water”) are then put into injection wells and again re-injected deep into the earth’s formations, to be buried supposedly forever. But well casings fail, as researchers and industry itself have studied, allowing these toxins to enter and poison aquifers. (See ProPublica’s reporting “Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us.”)

Governor Rick Snyder says “in Michigan we do fracking right”

Governor Snyder said in a televised debate, “in Michigan we do fracking right” and “we work with industry….” And now you know why the DEQ works with industry to contaminate Michigan with toxic chemicals, toxified water, and frack wastes from other states. With the world now watching Michigan’s governor, his emergency manager-based autocracy, his words and actions in the #FlintWaterCrisis, the Detroit Public School takeover, and the frack industry invasion, Michiganders and others are now seeing through this flim flam.

For more information about the harms of fracking and the ballot initiative to ban fracking and frack wastes statewide, see the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s brochure. The Committee is collecting signatures before June 1 to get the ban on fracking and frack wastes on the ballot this November.

Stop the Drilling in Southfield: Residents form group, plan protest

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Residents in Southfield and the metro Detroit area have organized to oppose a new drilling application to drill for oil in this Michigan city of over 70,000 people. “Stop the Drilling in Southfield” plans a protest at the drilling site Sunday, January 17 at 9 am. Word of Faith, a “mega church,” owns the property and has leased out its minerals to Jordan Development. The site is at Nine Mile and Evergreen, a densely populated area, only 2 miles from Providence Hospital.

Residents speak out on CBS/WWJ (see video): http://cbsloc.al/1Q2gNf2?anvt=111

The City of Southfield issued a moratorium on all drilling in the city and and it remains in effect through April 28, 2016. See the city’s press release: City of Southfield Oil drilling moratorium.

THE HARMS OF ACIDIZING
Though the company and church claim there will be no fracking, they propose to vertically acidize in the Niagaran formation, which has been horizontally fracked with multiple horizontal bores in Montmorency County (See the Hubbell 2-22 HD1 and Hubbell 2-22 HD2 well). There is no guarantee that this proposed well wouldn’t be used with multiple wellheads and eventually with horizontal well bores.

Acidizing the well uses tons of hydrochloric acid and other chemicals, injected deep underground. Some of the acidizing mixture is then brought back up to the surface, requiring disposal in yet other “injection” wells. The whole process creates millions of gallons of toxic wastes, both liquid and solid, and into the air. Acidizing is terribly polluting and harmful to people’s health and the environment. See this report of the harms of acidizing in populated areas of Los Angeles, California here: “Air Toxics One-Year Report: Oil Companies Used Millions of Pounds of Air-Polluting Chemicals in Los Angeles Basin Neighborhoods.”

Methane would be flared (burned) into the atmosphere. This, too, will pollute the air and harm residents.

COMMENTS TO DEQ NEEDED BY JANUARY 18

We join them in urging Michiganders to write to the DEQ by January 18, 2016 to deny the permit and demand a public hearing. The DEQ says 30 people have written in opposition. The application is A150095. Download the application here: Word of Faith 16-27 Application-2

Write to: DEQ-oilandgaspermitapplication@michigan.gov

Many groups and residents are sending in comments to the DEQ in opposition:

City of Southfield’s resolution against drilling: ResolutionAgainstDrillingandPermit-2

Ban Michigan Fracking’s comments: Kozma to Snow DEQ 1.4.16

Rep. Moss Information and Public Hearing Request

NEW GROUP, “STOP THE DRILLING IN SOUTHFIELD” PLANS PROTEST  THIS SUNDAY, JANUARY 17 at 9 am OUTSIDE WORD OF FAITH CHURCH

To join the protest, meet at 9 am at the NW corner of 9 Mile Road and Evergreen in Southfield. Bring protest signs. Download the groups flyer here: Stop the Drilling in Southfield – final PDF (2).

To reach the group, email stopthedrillinginSouthfield AT gmail.com

They are also on Facebook at Stop the Drilling in Southfield

CBS News covered the story, with Southfield residents Larry Quarles and Skip Davis of  Stop the Driling in Southfield explaining why the proposed well will be harmful to Southfield residents:  “Southfield Residents Speak Out Against Mega Church Plan to Drill for Oil.”

Marathon’s well near Grayling: a ‘test’ or a ‘nightmare’?

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by Ellis Boal

Chance discovery

One day in August I drove to Crawford County to take a look at Marathon Oil’s recent activities along King Road in Beaver Creek Township, which is near Grayling.

State Beaver Creek 1-23 HD1, a horizontal frack well in the state forest, has been producing on a pad there, tapping the nearly-two-mile-deep Utica-Collingwood shale for some time.

State Beaver Creek 1-23 HD1, on August 15. Photo: Ellis Boal

In late July Marathon applied for a second horizontal frack well on the same pad, named State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1, which would explore into the Detroit River formation, about a mile shallower than the Utica-Collingwood.

This is the first high-volume frack well to explore in this formation in Michigan.

Not much was happening that day on the pad. But previously I had noticed an unusual feature on the plat accompanying the application for the new well, a half-mile away. It was labeled “State Beaver Creek D4-11″. The nomenclature is not typical for Michigan wells and no operator name was given. I thought it might be a processing facility of some kind.

D4-11

D4-11, still a forest on August 15. Photo: Ellis Boal. Click for close-up.

I didn’t see a direct two-track through the forest between the wellpad and D4-11, so I drove around and found an old one leading to the spot where it was supposed to be. There was nothing but trees, and a few scattered stakes and flags. No permit was posted. Nothing indicated that something big was about to happen.

A week later, in a quick turnaround time DEQ issued the permit for State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1.

In September I inquired of DEQ what was going on with D4-11. On September 18 DEQ tech Kelley Nelson wrote that it is a well, not a processing facility. It was regulated under part 625 of the Michigan environmental law. Therefore, she said, it was a totally confidential operation. I asked if that meant the permit number, and even the fact whether the well was permitted, were unavailable. She answered:

You are correct. Nothing is available for any part 625 test well. It is confidential for 10 years.

Well, “nothing” was not really the whole truth. Part 625 regulations required Marathon to send the first page of its application to Beaver Creek Township, “post the permit in a conspicuous place” at the surface location until drilling is completed, and post a “conspicuous” sign near the wellhead showing the permit number.

D4-11, a/k/a the “science well,” under construction on August 26. Photo: Gary Cooley.

Obtained publicly from the township, the first page of the application tells us: Marathon posted a conformance bond of $33,000, the well is vertical, sour gas is expected, the intended total depth is 4700 feet, and the target formation is the Amherstburg. This is a fossil-bearing non-shale formation in the Detroit River group, the same formation being explored by State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1. Vertically, D4-11 is just 300 feet deeper.

Marathon refers to D4-11 informally as a “science well.”

I visited again on September 20. This time there was a nearly-200-foot drill rig there, operating with a loud hum. The rig name, Ensign 161, was prominent on the side.

I was wearing my letsbanfracking t-shirt. Three workers came out. I identified myself and we chatted. They were from out of state. I asked who was the supervisor. They didn’t know, they said.

Later toward midnight I drove by again, this time staying on King Road. Through 100+ yards of trees I could hear the hum. Over the tree line I could see lights on the rig.

D4-11, operating on September 22. Photo: Gary Cooley

Two days later Gary Cooley, who has a home a little over a mile from D4-11, visited and took pictures of the rig in operation.

FOIA request

On September 22, I sent DEQ a formal FOIA request asking for all its documents on the facility. DEQ denied it on October 1, citing section 8 and section 9 of part 625.

But section 9 only says that the application and permit are “confidential in the same manner as provided for logs and reports on these wells.” Section 8 says “Logs on brine and test wells shall be held confidential for 10 years after completion.” It adds that “logs” — but not “reports” — can be held confidential even longer, forever.

Marathon’s application, permit, and pre-drilling correspondence with DEQ are not “logs.” So according to these sections, they were not confidential until the well was “completed.” And according to part 625 rules, completion was not until the well reached its “permitted depth or the [DEQ] has determined drilling has ceased.” Obviously, D4-11 was not complete on September 20 or 22. Ensign 161 was still there, and working.

So DEQ should have produced the application, permit, and all records other than logs.

Exploring for gas and oil

On October 2 I visited again. A different worker came out to say hello. He said his name was “Trace” and he was the Marathon safety man. Asked how long the rig would be there, he didn’t know and said they were hoping to find gas or oil. He gave the card of his boss in Houston, in case there were further questions.

A brief internet search showed that earlier this year Ensign 161 was active at Marathon wells in three different counties of western North Dakota. Fracking for oil there is big business.

Trace’s information, Ensign 161’s design and history in frack country, and D4-11’s exploration in the Detroit River group all mean there is a second reason the well information is not confidential. By its title, part 625 only regulates “mineral” wells. Mineral wells include so-called “test wells.” A test well determines the presence of a “mineral, mineral resource, ore, or rock unit,” or obtains data related to “mineral exploration or extraction.” Exploratory test wells look for “an orebody or mineable mineral resource.”

Oil and gas are not “minerals”

Part 625 does not define “mineral.” But in ordinary English minerals are understood to be hard, crystalline, and inorganic. They are extracted by mining.

Gas and oil are extracted by drilling. They are not in DEQ’s list of Michigan minerals. There are no minerals of any kind in Crawford County, according to the list. Anyway, the idea of looking for a mineral in a 4700-foot hole is ridiculous.

Cooley’s nightmare. Photo: LuAnne Kozma. Click for close-up.

Rules under part 625 say if a mineral well encounters oil or gas of any value, the operator has to stop and apply for a separate permit under part 615. This is the part of the law that covers exploration for gas and oil. Part 615 part makes no mention of targeting minerals. It specifically does not apply to “mine and quarry drill and blast holes.”

Part 615, not part 625, was the part under which DEQ granted the “exploratory” permit given for State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1. As an exploration well for gas and oil, D4-11 should have been permitted if at all under part 615, not part 625.

Whats’ the difference? A big one is that confidentiality under part 615 is quite limited. Logs and other data are confidential only for 90 days after completion and then only if the operator requests confidentiality. All other documents, including applications, permits, and pre-drilling correspondence, are routinely made public to me or anyone else at any time. The same is true of logging and production data after the 90 days has passed, or even before 90 days if the operator did not request confidentiality.

Another difference is that part 625 has no rules prohibiting nuisance noise. Part 615 does.

What will D4-11 do to the countryside?

Part 625 rules allow for horizontal mineral wells, though fortunately this well is vertical. The rules also allow for acidizing, perforating, and fracturing.

As mentioned, so far only the first page of Marathon’s application for D4-11 has been made public. Applications typically run to 50 or 100 pages. The full application had to include an environmental impact assessment.

DEQ’s form for that required Marathon to identify distances to nearby water wells and other human-made features, and wetlands, surface waters, and endangered species. Marathon should have stated if high-volume fracking will be done in which case it should have specified the water volumes and a water assessment, and identified at least some of the chemicals. It should have explained how muds, cuttings, pit fluids, and brines would be disposed. It should have given details about any flowline or other facilities on the pad, and explained how it would deal with soil erosion and sedimentation.

Cooley and Ban Michigan Fracking are appealing DEQ’s refusal of D4-11 information except for the logs. Ninety days after completion the logs will be requested too. A monster operation like this is a matter of public concern. People birding, hunting, or snowmobiling in the forest are entitled to know what DEQ knows, including the environmental effects and everything else.

Separately, On October 8 I wrote the Marathon boss asking him to confirm Trace’s statement that D4-11 was looking for gas and oil, and provide a copy of the “application [and] permit.” A week later a PR flack wrote back confirming a permit was issued but refusing to send any documents.

D4-11, October 16. Photo: LuAnne Kozma.

Lighting the heavens

LuAnne Kozma (the director of Ban Michigan Fracking and the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan) and I visited the site again on October 6, at twilight. Ensign 161 was lit up. She recorded the sounds and pictures in the video above.

On October 16 we visited the last time. Drilling was complete. The pad was quiet and empty, a gash in the forest with a blowout preventer at the center. No sign displayed the permit number, “conspicuously” or at all.

Ensign 161 had moved a half-mile to the pad of 1-14. It was drilling there in the same Detroit River formation.

The rig is expected back at D4-11 soon, after Marathon runs the numbers. It cost millions to cut the trees, excavate the pad, and bring in the rig. The company won’t want to walk away empty-handed. And next time the bore would not just be vertical. It could be aimed right at Cooley, his nightmare.


Protest frack waste expansion in Detroit

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Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan volunteers, Ban Michigan Fracking, Metro Detroiters for Bernie, and residents in the nearby community from Hamtramck and Detroit around the Detroit US Ecology hazardous waste facility gathered for a protest October 3. Photo: Jim West.

By LuAnne Kozma

Forty-five activists and community members gathered on October 3, 2015 at the US Ecology hazardous waste facility in Detroit to protest expansion of the facility. They included nearby residents from Detroit and Hamtramck, retirees, nurses, professors, lawyers, students, engineers, photographers, teachers, former and current city workers, a Detroit school board member, and retired postal workers.

In addition to Ban Michigan Fracking, the groups Beyond Nuclear, Don’t Waste Michigan, Metro Detroiters for Bernie, Carrie Rogge Block Club, Great Lakes Water Protection Committee, Detroit Workers Voice, and Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, joined members of a local mosque and volunteers of Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan from around the state.

Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Photo by Jim West.

The Detroit facility, which processes frack wastes, has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to expand its operations tenfold.

Ban Michigan Fracking has reported on the amount of frack waste coming to Detroit from Pennsylvania for many months (*see below). The Detroit Free Press reported on the expansion on September 11, and the DEQ’s public comment deadline the next day, Saturday, September 12.  BMF wrote public comments to the DEQ, demanding an extension of the public comment period, demanding that DEQ deny the permit, and discussing the harms of radioactive frack wastes and TENORM.

We Demand a Public Hearing by DEQ

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Nearby residents concerned about the frack waste expansion and harm to families. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

The DEQ granted the extension of the public comment period to October 12, but no public hearing has been planned. BMF encourages people to write DEQ and demand a public hearing. The nearby community and all Michigan residents deserve to be heard. Write comments to: Richard Conforti, MDEQ, at confortir@michigan.gov or by mail c/o DEQ, P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7741.

US Ecology admits liquid wastes are going into the Detroit sewer system; Michigan DEQ denies it

The Detroit Free Press reported on September 11:

In an e-mailed response to Free Press inquiries, US Ecology spokesman David Crumrine said there have been no adverse environmental impacts during the 40 years the plant has operated. The plant takes hazardous and non-hazardous, solid and liquid wastes from the automotive, steel, plating and other area industries, as well as retail wastes, he said. Waste is treated to remove or stabilize its hazards as required by state and federal regulations, and then shipped for disposal at offsite landfills. Liquids are treated until they are safe to dispose of via the Detroit wastewater treatment plant. [emphasis added]

This was startling news, and what BMF had speculated for some time. The company’s admission was proof that wastewater from processing hazardous wastes at the site — 40% of which comes from out of state — goes directly into the public water and sewerage system.

Why else bring out-of-state frack wastes for processing to Detroit? When liquid wastes that are too hot radioactively to be disposed of here — DEQ’s Ken Yale has told BMF that wastes are solidified in Detroit first and then shipped for disposal at US Ecology facilities in Idaho — are brought here on their way west, there’s got to be a practical reason. Why wouldn’t Pennsylvania’s frack wastes be sent directly from Pennsylvania to Idaho?

DEQ’s Conforti denied that US Ecology is putting wastes into the Detroit Water and Sewerage System, as quoted in the Detroit News:  “Nothing will be released into the water supply — Lake Huron or the Detroit River.”

Other groups, such as the American Human Rights Coalition, based in Dearborn, are also opposed to the expansion.  AHRC is raising community awareness and demanding answers to what impact the expansion would have on the Detroit water system.

Dealing with the contaminated and radioactive waste is getting to be a real problem for the fracking/oil and gas industry. According to industry site Fuel Fix: “EPA to block drillers from sending wastewater to municipal treatment plants“:

“In Pennsylvania, drillers are worried about a double whammy — that EPA will follow up its currently proposed zero-discharge rule for municipal treatment plants with another standard blocking them from sending fluids to centralized facilities too.”

Which could pose a problem for facilities like US Ecology.

Speakers at the Protest

Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Local resident Ronnie Mixon, who also spoke at the protest. Photo: Jim West.

* Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste watchdog from Beyond Nuclear, gave some background on how harmful radioactivity is to human health.

Elena Herrada, a member of the Detroit School Board told the crowd that the school board passed a resolution that the DEQ deny the permit, in light of harm to Detroit school children.

Dawn DeRose, of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, gave an urgent pitch for volunteers to sign up to get signatures to get the Committee’s ban initiative on the 2016 ballot before the November deadline.

Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Photo by Jim West.

The signature deadline is in November. The Committee reported in September collecting over 100,000 signatures toward the 252,523 requirement and intends to make it on the ballot. The ballot initiative would ban the processing and storage of frack wastes.

 

 

* In December 2014 we reported on the wastes coming from Pennsylvania to US Ecology in Detroit reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection :

Detroit got the worst of it. Over 1,466 tons of “flowback fracturing sand” went to the US Ecology facility at 6520 Georgia Street, near Hamtramck which is the former Dynecol facility. The Marcellus shale frack wastes came from horizontal frack wells in a host of Pennsylvania counties–Butler, Clarion, Clearfield, Fayette, Greene, Indiana and Westmoreland–all in 2011 and 2012, but not reported until 2014. The former Dynecol site, which was a hazardous liquid waste processing facility in operation since 1974 “for the Midwest US and Canadian industrial markets,” is now owned by US Ecology, which bought it in 2012, around the same time the frack wastes were brought to Detroit. The company now carries out a number of hazardous operations with radioactive waste, including, according to the DEQ, processing of radioactive frack wastes which are solidified and then shipped to a facility in Idaho. What parts from that “processing” remain in Detroit? We wish we knew. – See more at: http://banmichiganfracking.org/?m=201412#sthash.qJ2D2iNW.dpuf

Other sources on radioactive wastes and: Rachel Treichler, attorney from New York, has this list of sources, “Materials on Radioactivity in Gas and Gas Drilling Waste.”

Marathon Oil makes its move with new Michigan frack well

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By Ellis Boal

Marathon Oil applied for a horizontal frack well in Michigan this past July, its first since buying out Canadian frack company Encana’s Michigan frack wells and permits last year and becoming the biggest potential fracker in the state.

Marathon acquired 430,000 acres of state leases from Encana. At the October auction of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) it added 148,000 acres, and 53,000 more this May. That works out to nearly 1000 square miles of leases under state land. The number does not count private leases it may also own.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) granted permit # 61130 unusually quickly, on August 21.

Stake and flag for Marathon’s applied-for State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1 in Crawford County. In the background is the blowout preventer for the existing State Beaver Creek 1-23 HD1. Click and then click again to enlarge. Photos by Ellis Boal, 8/15/15.

Till now Marathon has kept its plans under wraps.

The 80-page application is viewable and downloadable here.

Named “State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1,” the well, located in Crawford County, would descend to a true vertical depth of 4400 feet into what is called the “Detroit River” formation. This is a Devonian-age rock composed of a mixed series of carbonates, evaporites, and sandstones. It is shallower than the record-breaking Utica-Collingwood frack wells drilled in the area by Encana in 2012. Horizontally in the Detroit River formation, the bore would then head south 5255 feet.

It would be an exploratory well. The surface hole is said to be 55 feet south of an earlier Beaver Creek wellhead on the same pad, named “State Beaver Creek 1-23 HD1,” which is now producing.

Encana’s application for the earlier well cited 350,000 barrels of water, or 14.7 million gallons, as the amount it would use for fracking.

Marathon’s surveyor was Dean Farrier. He claims to moonlight as a “biologist.” In January 2013 he prepared an environmental impact assessment for the gathering line for the earlier Beaver Creek well. Asked by the Public Service Commission to demonstrate the efforts and resources he used to write the assessment, he said he “conducted a thorough onsite survey of [the] pipeline route for the presence of protected species” including what he called “Kirkland’s” warblers.

The claim is ridiculous. He didn’t pay attention in the biology classes. They are “Kirtland’s” warblers. At the time of his survey they were actually 1000+ miles south, wintering in the Bahamas.

Kirtlands are beautiful, popular, and endangered birds, for which a local community college is named.

Marathon’s application says the new well may pass through sour gas (H2S) zones. H2S is lethal. The application includes a 30-page “contingency plan” for dealing with H2S. If there is an uncontrolled release, the extreme recommended solution is to ignite the well via an upwind approach, wearing self-contained breathing apparatus, using a meteor-type flare gun and a safety rope attached to a backup responder, with a quick retreat path available. After ignition, H2S converts to sulfur dioxide which is also highly toxic, according to the contingency plan.

The new well will have a permanent water well. The environmental impact assessment of the application says volume of frack water will be “1.815 gallons.” On a later page the application says “1,815,000 gallons.”

Waters Landfill

The Waters landfill in Crawford County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

Cuttings and muds will be disposed at Waste Management’s nearby Waters landfill.

The chemical constituents of the frack fluid are said to be: water, hydrochloric acid, crystalline silica quartz, tributyl tetradecyl phosphonium chloride, hemicellulase enzyme, propargyl alcohol, methanol, hydrotreated light petroleum distillate, alcohol C12-16 ethoxylated, ammonium chloride, naphthalene, ethanol, heavy aromatic petroleum naphtha, and guar gum.

The public health study of the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute identified three of these as particularly concerning:

  • methanol (cardiovascular, dermal, hepatic, neurological, irritant/corrosive)
  • hydrotreated light petroleum distillate (carcinogen, irritant/corrosive)
  • silica (dermal, ocular, respiratory).

Marathon also filed an application for a pooled 800-acre spacing unit. It notes there are numerous critical unknowns with the Detroit River formation in this area. These include reservoir pressure, permeability, porosity, hydrocarbon saturation, and in-situ rock stresses. This well would be the first in the drilling unit.

Marathon paid a $300 application fee.

Marathon welcomes the public

   

Photos by Gary Cooley, 9/5/15.

Photos by Gary Cooley, 9/5/15.

As it was assembling equipment to start drilling the new well in early September, the company put this sign up on the site. It says:

Photographing or otherwise recording this facility or its operations is prohibited without written consent from the company.

The sign adds “Access to this facility is limited to authorized personnel only.” It refers to the area as “company property.” It claims the right to search the “person, personal property, and vehicle” of any visitor to the premises. It adds that anyone “suspected” of violating a “company policy” may be “referred to law enforcement officials.”

But the state owns the property. Marathon has a permit to drill, but it does not have a permit to exclude visitors. People have the right to walk in the state forest, carry a camera, and use it. The DNR manages it and its policy is:

Michigan’s forests are of incredible value to the people, animals, plants, and other organisms that live in and travel through the State.

On September 22 Ban Michigan Fracking demanded of Hal Fitch, DEQ’s supervisor of wells, that DEQ order the company to paint over the offending language. Fitch refused. He wrote back saying there was “no evidence of any violations of either Part 615 or Part 625“, the laws he administers.

Under current Michigan law, DEQ’s job is to “foster” the industry “favorably.”

The Graham Institute completed its intensive two-year report this month on high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) in Michigan. One thing in the executive summary that it got right was a criticism of the DEQ’s current policy involving the public and well permitting. It said the policy “hinders transparency about HVHF operations in the state.” Fitch’s response proves the point.

The next day BMF made the same demand of DNR. DNR promptly sent staff to the pad and told the foreman to take down the sign.

The threatening bullying sign had been up, unchallenged, for three weeks.



New DEQ fracking rules don’t help; we still need a ban

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A frack well in Gladwin County, Wiley 1-81 HD1, in 2012. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

By Ellis Boal

After public hearings last summer amid the public uproar about fracking, in March 2015 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals published new administrative rules for oil, gas, and fracking. DEQ provided a link and said the new rules:

contain additional requirements when completing a well using high volume hydraulic fracturing [HVHF] by modifying Rule 201 and adding Part 14 High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing. The revised administrative rules also contained other minor updates related to definitions, injection, and spacing issues.

Since horizontal fracking came to Michigan in 2010, some environmental groups have put all effort into improving sloppy practices, and getting tighter DEQ fracking regulation.

The new rules show the futility of those efforts. If anything, they facilitate more fracking than the old rules.  Protection of public health, the environment, forests, water resources, air, climate, and our communities is still at stake.

The technical details are below.

“Construction of part”

The overall show-stopper is the legislature’s statutory finding at MCL 324.61502. This law will remain in place unless the ballot initiative campaign of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan succeeds in 2016. Innocuously titled “construction of part” – meaning “how the DEQ is to construe part 615 [the state oil-gas law]” – the finding ends with these words:

It is accordingly the declared policy of the state to protect the interests of its citizens and landowners from unwarranted waste of gas and oil and to foster the development of the industry along the most favorable conditions and with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products. To that end, this part is to be construed liberally to give effect to sound policies of conservation and the prevention of waste and exploitation.

Binding on judges, juries, and DEQ regulators, this special-interest provision has been on the books since 1939. Most government agencies treat their regulated industries neutrally. Not so with DEQ and oil-gas. “Fostering” the industry means fostering oil-gas profits. “Maximizing” oil-gas production means maximizing Michigan’s contribution to fossil fuel-driven global warming.

Thus “construction of part” declares a vision statement or ideology, that animates both the old DEQ rules and the new DEQ rules.

The citizen-led ballot initiative will ban horizontal fracking and acidizing in the state, and render the HVHF rules obsolete.

Just as importantly, it will eliminate the oil-gas industry’s special-interest protection. Instead of fostering the industry and maximizing production, the new “construction of part” will say:

It is accordingly the declared policy of the state to protect the interests of its people and environment during gas and oil development. This part is to be construed liberally to give effect to sound policies of conservation and to protect water resources, land, air, climate, human health, and the natural environment.

Terminology and a caveat

Terminology: “Part 615” noted above refers to the oil-gas “part” of Michigan’s overall environmental law known as “Natural Resources and Environmental Protection act” (NREPA), found at MCL 324.101 et seq. Part 327, noted below, is also in NREPA.

The DEQ rules are also divided into “parts,” numbered part 1 through part 14. They are in a different number sequence than the parts of NREPA. Confusingly, the two sets of “parts” have no relation to each other.

The caveat: Many of the new rules refer to “high volume hydraulic fracturing” (HVHF), defined as fracking which uses a total volume of more than 100,000 gallons of primary carrier fluid. HVHF usually occurs in wellbores which are horizontal, but not always. The ballot initiative of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan by contrast seeks to ban fracking and acidizing in horizontal wellbores, without tying it to a specific volume of primary carrier fluid.

Details on the new rules

  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: On April 27 the Detroit News editorialized against signing the ballot initiative, asserting that the new rules “control methane emissions.” They do not. New rule 1404(1)(c) provides only for testing for methane (and six other chemicals) in water wells which are near HVHF wells. No tests are done for fugitive methane (methane which escapes into the air). Methane is the primary constituent of natural gas, and a potent GHG. Other new rules say nothing and do nothing about Michigan’s contribution to global warming. Comments by Ban Michigan Fracking at last summer’s hearings made particular note that the prohibition of “waste” in MCL 324.61501(q)(ii)(B) does not include air or climate as protected values, and that DEQ’s historic permitting practice has been to monitor only non-GHG emissions.
IMG_1460

This frack well fragmented a state forest in Antrim County, 2011, (State Mancelona 1-28 HD1). Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

  • Cumulative impacts and habitat fragmentation: The new rules say nothing about proliferation and cumulative impacts of wells. The DNR leases oil-gas rights and DEQ permits oil-gas wells separately with no coordination between them. Wells are often located near rivers and streams. In basins with a high density of operations, numerous wellpads in the same watershed compound cumulative impacts of above-ground wellheads, compressors, pipelines, access roads, and associated industry.
  • IMG_0113Wastewater, radioactivity: The new rules have no requirement for geochemical analysis of flowback and produced water, particularly from underground radioactive shale rock typically associated with shale gas.
  • Compulsory pooling of surface owners can now be done after drilling and fracking is done:  Rule 301(1)(d) now allows a permit to be issued and the well drilled on a unit with fractures extending under unleased land — land the fracker does not have the rights to — prior to a hearing being held to see if a dominant leaseholder can force other owners into a pool. The theory under MCL 324.61513(4) is that the leaseholder should not be deprived of a fair share of oil or gas in the pool. Pooling orders are typically justified by the “construction of part” language that requires the state to foster “maximum production” (language which will be eliminated if the ballot initiative succeeds). See this example of a case of compulsory pooling where DEQ relied on “construction of part” to force owners into a drilling unit. The assumption of compulsory pooling is that everyone wants to produce oil or gas from his/her land to the max. If ever accurate historically, the assumption is not uniformly true today. Cosmetically, the new rules also change the term “compulsory pooling” to “statutory pooling,” hiding the fact that landowners are forced into drilling units against their will.
  • Seismic impacts: The new rules have a single passing reference to seismic activity. It is in rule 1202(3)(a), the procedure for petitioning to establish secondary recovery operations. In April, the US Geological Survey linked oil-gas activities to induced earthquakes. The new rules require no seismic precautions.
  • Confidentiality: Rule 416(3) requires operators on request of the DEQ to give it fracking, acidizing, and other well records. But if an operator asks DEQ to hold well data and samples confidential (excepting data on spills, leaks, and chemicals used), DEQ will do so until 90 days after drilling is completed. Confidentiality advances no environmental principle or policy.
  • Spacing and blowouts: When a fracker seeks a special spacing order, rule 303(2) no longer requires that DEQ make sure that the distance between wells prevents interference. Interference can result in a blowout at an adjacent well. DEQ is now content to grant a permit to a well where a blowout could happen.
  • Conformance bonds: Bonds for single wells range between $10k and $30k depending on depth according to rule 212, but the state auditor general found in 2013 the average cost to plug one is $50k+.
  • Hearings on well permits: Rule 201(4) provides for no notice to nearby landowners of fracker applications for well permits, and no hearings or appeals if a permit is granted.
One of the many injection wells used to dispose of horizontal frack wastes in Michigan, the Slowinski injection well in Kalkaska County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

One of the many injection wells used to dispose of horizontal frack wastes in Michigan, the Slowinski injection well in Kalkaska County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

  • Injection wells: There is no change in rule 102(x), the definition of “injection well.” The rule’s definition includes disposal wells and wells used to inject water “for the purpose of increasing the ultimate recovery of hydrocarbons from a reservoir.” A reservoir is any gas-bearing formation, even if it is solid rock. Injecting to increase recovery is just what frack wells do in the Utica-Collingwood, A-1 carbonate, and other gas-bearing formations. By nature, frack wells are permanent disposal wells of half their own injectate. In 2014 our court of appeals interpreted the rule definition to refer to any well used to increase recovery of hydrocarbons from a reservoir which was already producing before water was injected. Every well in the Utica-Collingwood and A-1 carbonate, and practically every other frack well in the state today, fits that interpretation. Yet DEQ refuses to treat them under the rules for injection wells. Those rules include rule 804 which uses a formula to limit the amount of injection pressure.
  • HVHF: The new rules have an amended part 2 and a new part 14 to cover high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). HVHF is defined in rule 1401(h) as fracking which uses a total volume of more than 100,000 gallons of primary carrier fluid.
  • Trade secrets and HVHF: Under rule 201(2)(c), anticipated chemicals in the injectate, and their “chemical abstracts service” (CAS) numbers, must be identified in advance. Under rule 1406(1)(c), the chemicals and CAS numbers actually used have to be listed with FracFocus 30 days after completion. (FracFocus does not operate under a public mandate or verify information submitted to it.) But both requirements have an exception if the fracker simply makes a claim for protection under Michigan’s trade secrets statute, MCL 445.1901 et seq. The trade secrets law does not protect the public from frackers. It protects frackers from each other. Neither the trade secrets law nor the new rules provide a mechanism for a citizen to challenge a fracker’s claim of secrecy.
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    Students protest in Mt. Pleasant, 2012. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

    Baseline water testing and HVHF: Rule 1404 requires the permit holder to do pre-drilling sampling of water from potable wells near the surface hole, test the samples at a lab for seven chemicals, and give a copy of the lab results to the landowner. No testing for the hundreds of other chemicals identified in frack operations is required. And chemicals in secret mixtures can’t be tested for at all. Sampling in the vicinity of the horizontal laterals, sampling of water levels and flows, sampling of surface waters, splitting samples so the landowner can have half, and doing post-drilling sampling are not required. Nor is sampling required for water wells near gas wells which are not HVHF.

  • Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool and HVHF: Rule 1402 has provisions for protection of water withdrawn for fracking. The rule requires screening by Michigan’s water withdrawal assessment tool (WWAT), adopted in 2008 by the legislature in MCL 324.32701 et seq (or NREPA part 327). If a fracker’s withdrawal request fails WWAT screening, it may request a site-specific review. DEQ would then take a closer look and decide whether to approve withdrawal. In the past, DEQ has routinely approved permits even when the WWAT test “fails.” WWAT screening has problems. It estimates surface water flows from just 147 gauged stream segments around the state. The gauges tend to be on medium- and large-sized streams, not sensitive headwaters. WWAT has not been updated since 2008. It was developed to deal with long-term withdrawals like agricultural irrigation, not the short-term intensive withdrawals required for fracking. WWAT cannot assess the potential impacts on habitat, wildlife, and nearby waters receiving site runoff. It does not account for water withdrawal impacts to wetlands and lakes. It cannot measure potential changes in surface runoff patterns due to the clearing of land and road construction. It overestimates stream flow (and so underestimates adverse effects). Academics have criticized it.
  • Use of WWAT and HVHF: Even were WWAT a valid screening device, DEQ misuses it. Two big frack wells were permitted in 2011, State Excelsior 1-13 HD1 and State Excelsior 1-25 HD1. Both wells failed WWAT screening according to the linked DEQ paperwork for the wells. That triggered a site-specific review by DNR water specialist David Deyoung. Deyoung gave the go-ahead and permits were granted. But according to pages 84-87 and 108-113 respectively of the paperwork, he gave no reasoning, did not consider the stream or river flow data of affected stream reaches, and did not even state he visited the sites.

To protect Michigan from harm, we must use the Precautionary Principle and do no harm. Rules by which to frack, only lead us down the road to more and increased fracking across the state.